For Kelly Wells, the waiting’s been the hardest part.
Wells, a former area star basketball player at Rowan County High School and currently University of Pikeville men’s basketball coach, and his brother-in-law, Boyd County Schools Superintendent Brock Walter, will be at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Monday — where Walter will donate a kidney to Wells, who suffers from IgA nephropathy, an inflammation that hampers the kidneys’ ability to filter waste, excess water and electrolytes from the blood.
It’s the second kidney transplant for Wells — he received the first from his wife, Shawne, 10 years ago while he was coach at Mason County High School. He says he’s a little nervous about his latest surgery, though he knew another one was possible because transplanted kidneys don’t last a lifetime.
“I am comforted by (having) been through it before,” Wells said. “I don’t know if the ins and outs is the right word, but I do kind of understand the process, some of the things that will bother me, some of the things that won’t.
“The first time it was, ‘bang-bang, here we are.’ Now, I’ve had more time to think about it.”
Walter, 50, recently completed his first year as superintendent. He knew he was a compatible match with Wells, when he and Shawne were first tested 10 years ago — which gives him peace now about what he’s doing.
“The actual part was probably worrying about how my family, my side, would respond,” Walter said. “I really didn’t think much about that until I met with my team of doctors, and the social worker I met with had a lot of questions for me and made me think about what my family would be thinking.
“ … Our faith has a whole lot to do with my family; we are very God-loving people. To be quite honest, that’s kind of helped us through and even helped us to make this decision.”
Wells, a 1990 Rowan County High School graduate, is one of the finest players in 16th Region history — he helped lead the Vikings to three regional titles and was an All-State selection his final two seasons. From there, he played one year at the University of Tulsa and finished his career at Morehead State University in 1995.
Call Wells a successful coach, too: a combined 316-159 in stops at Marion County (32-28 from 1995-97), Mason County (171-56 from 1997-2004 with a state title in 2003 and runner-up in ‘04), 8-19 at Hawaii Pacific (in 2005-06) and 105-56 at UPike since 2006 (the Bears won the Buffalo Funds NAIA Division I title in 2011).
According to the website mayoclinic.org, IgA nephropathy (nuh-FROP-uh-thee), also known as Berger’s disease, occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) lodges in the kidneys. No cure exists.
“Kidney damage may be indicated by blood and protein in your urine, high blood pressure and swollen feet,” the website states. “IgA nephropathy usually progresses slowly over many years, but the course of the disease in each person is uncertain. Some people leak blood in their urine without developing problems, some eventually achieve complete remission, and others develop end-stage kidney failure.”
Nephrologists — doctors who specialize in kidney problems — measure kidney function with a mathematical equation called the glomerular filtration rate (GFR). The test determines the level of creatinine, a waste product that comes from muscle activity, in the blood.
People with a GFR from 90 to 100 percent have healthy kidneys or mild damage because creatinine is largely removed. Wells’ rate of 15 is one point from total dialysis and eventual kidney failure.
Wells said transplant recipients usually have 15 to 22 years from a kidney that IgA does not attack again. Wells had been healthy for about nine years, but he’s not bitter — though he’s also battled high blood pressure, another sign of kidney trouble.
“I had nine really good years of healthy living, and then of course last year’s been kinda rough” Wells said. “ … (Shawne’s) doing great, she’s in it for the long haul. She’s disappointed that the disease came back, but it was by no fault of hers or no fault of mine; it’s just the makeup that we have.
“She’s stronger than a pine knot, that’s for sure.”
On Nov. 6, 2013, UPike met Louisville in an exhibition game at the KFC Yum! Center. It was the first road game to which Wells had taken his daughter, Kaylee, and he followed his usual game-day routine of running a practice and going over the game plan.
Then came pregame warmups — and kidney trouble.
“It started hurting real bad during pregame,” Wells said. “When I went to the restroom I obviously saw that I was passing blood really bad; that’s not a good sign. I probably should’ve … went then and there, went to the ER, but I didn’t want to scare my team to death and everybody else to death.”
Wells stayed on the sidelines — and then spent eight days at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. Doctors tried chemotherapy and heavy doses of steroids.
“It was a very demanding-to-your-body-type situation,” Wells said. “I lost a lot of hair, (got) really puffy and swelled. It was really taxing treatment. We were hoping it was a rejection thing, but it turned out it was more IgA coming back.”
Walter underwent a second round of compatibility tests and physicals in March, and in April he decided to donate. Walter actually wanted the surgery done long before Monday. Walter is married to Kelly’s sister, Shelly.
“It’s kind of worked out really well,” Walter said. “Kelly had a lot of basketball still going on.”
Understandably, Walter and Wells have talked more about next week’s surgeries lately. Walter has also talked to Shawne Wells (he said Shawne later ran a marathon) and Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter — who donated a kidney to Demon Deacon player Kevin Jordan — about what to expect.
“We’ve talked about (Wells) being very humble and very grateful at the same time that anybody would do this for him,” Brock Walter said. “ … I was able to talk to (Coach Walter) about the recovery time and what to expect; he was great to talk to, very reassuring.”
Wells expects to be in the hospital five days, and Walter about two. Wells is especially grateful he’ll be back at UPike, but more than anything he’s grateful to Walter because he goes to dialysis with people who’ve waited up to 15 years for a kidney.
“I’ve been blessed to be in great communities to coach and to work, and Pikeville’s no different,” Wells said. “We’ve built great relationships here. People are concerned, but they’re also very supportive. We feel very good that there’s a lot of life left in me, there’s a lot of things we want to finish.
“ … I pray every day that God’s plans are for me to be here and for me to continue on.”
Boyd superintendent will be second transplant donor for former area star
For Kelly Wells, the waiting’s been the hardest part.
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